When Paul Mencke gets his doctorate Saturday at Washington State University, the Spokane native will breathe a sigh of relief.
During the past year, he and his wife, Bernadette, have both attended graduate school while she worked full time and he worked part-time. They have a 4-year-old and their second son, Carter, was born less than two weeks ago.
“It’s been challenging,” Mencke said. But the couple has been together since their junior year in high school and are best friends. “That helped.”
Mencke was chosen as one of WSU’s 14 standout students among 2,300 graduates walking during this weekend’s commencement ceremonies.
WSU and Gonzaga are the first of the area universities to celebrate their graduates, with ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday. Whitworth University’s graduations will take place May 15 and 16, while Eastern Washington University and Community Colleges of Spokane’s three institutions are planning June ceremonies.
WSU’s colleges were asked to nominate students whose stories they wanted to highlight during commencement ceremonies, said WSU spokeswoman Maria Ortega. Mencke was nominated by Dawn Shinew, an associate professor of teaching and learning at the College of Education.
This will be Mencke’s third commencement at WSU. This time, the former Cougar quarterback is getting a doctorate in cultural studies and social thought in education. In other words, the study of how inequalities impact a classroom.
“Most curriculums are set in a white, middle-class type of knowledge, so who does that leave out?” Mencke said.
The Lewis and Clark High School graduate said his dream job would be as “a professor teaching about race, class and gender within education.”
Menke, 33, first attended WSU in 1996. He completed a double major with degrees in history and education in 2000, but then decided to go for a master’s in business administration. Besides playing football, he played on the university’s basketball team in his senior year.
“When I talked about education, no one thought it was cool, to be honest,” he said. “So I went with what society thought was a good idea. Then when I went and did business, I realized that didn’t fit with my personality.”
Mencke used his business degree to sell medical supplies in Tacoma, but after four years he could no longer deny his passion for education.
His wife, who graduated from University High School in Spokane Valley, feels the same way. Her doctorate – she’s expected to graduate in December – is in higher education. Her dream job would be as a dean or president at a university.
Mencke isn’t sure where his family will land. “Life can be good wherever you are at,” he said. “You just have to make it good.”